wtf, anne rice

20 Nov 2013, 12:25 p.m.
My reaction to a scene in The Vampire Armand, crossposted here from my Tumblr because I'm trying to collate my vampire-ish musings in one place. Spoilers for Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Armand.

I read the first five Vampire Chronicles novels (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief and Memnoch the Devil) in my teens, and recently started rereading the series. When I got to the end of Memnoch, I remembered exactly why I’d stopped. To come to the end of a novel in which Lestat is taken through Heaven and Hell, learns (allegedly) the entire history of good and evil in the world, meets Jesus on the Road to Calvary, suffers amongst corpses on a battlefield, and finally escapes missing an eye — his sanity shattered — clutching the Veil of Veronica … well, that’s one thing. To then see that the next book is The Vampire Armand, that’s something else.

"I’ve never been interested in that little shit or had any sympathy with him," I thought, "and besides, he’s just killed himself! And hasn’t his entire life story already been told in the previous books? Phooey."

This time I gave it a try, and was pleasantly surprised. It turned out that there was more left to Armand’s backstory, enough to give an insight into his later behaviour and, perhaps, to make him a more well-rounded character. It was also quite nice to read about the Slavonic church and guess that Rice was attracted to write about it while researching the Book of Enoch, from which the theology in Memnoch the Devil drew heavily.

Then, two thirds in, describing the death of Claudia — which has indeed been covered at length, and in all of the previous books — she dropped a bombshell of such grotesquerie that I was honestly stunned by it, and not sure whether to be impressed or disgusted. That counts both in-universe and out.

I shan’t spoil it here, since I’ve threatened Z that I’m going to read the scene out loud to him. Just wanted to express my feelings about it, which are, approximately, gaaaaah. I have now read him the passage, which is reproduced below.

Two days later, I'm still picking at the strangeness of this. Is it brave, crass or just ill-judged of Rice to rewrite this scene, which has been at the heart of so much emotion in her books written from Louis's and Lestat's points of view, as something so revolting and almost comic? In-text, Armand's motivation for revealing this now is murky. It's not clear to me whether he or David, to whom he's dictating these memoirs of his, intend or expect that they will be published and widely shared. If so, then — after protecting Louis for so long from the knowledge of these events (assuming they actually happened) — why reveal them now, in such a way? As an illustration of his mental state, both in the book's present and in the past, it's a revealing one, but knowledge of this intent would make it clearer. I would also like to point out that for someone insisting he won't relive these events, he goes into a bloody lot of detail.

It's interesting that the indignity inflicted on Claudia was never mentioned by her 'ghost' as it appeared to various characters in books 2-4 of this series. I don't think it necessarily sheds any light, though, on the ambiguous character of that ghost — spirit, hallucination, mere shadow? If I were the shade of Claudia returning to my friends and enemies, I wouldn't mention this to them either.

From the book The Vampire Armand, published in 1998 by Anne Rice:

One other horrible inescapable and unforgettable ingredient went into our destruction. Ah, I don't want to speak of it, but who among us is going to let me be silent on the matter of Claudia, the child vampire whom I am accused for all time by all of having destroyed?

Claudia. Who among us today for whom I dictate this narrative, who among the modern audience who reads these tales as palatable fiction does not have in mind a vibrant picture of her, the golden-curled child vampire made by Louis and Lestat one wicked and foolish night in New Orleans, the child vampire whose mind and soul became as immense as that of an immortal woman while her body remained that of a precious all too perfect painted bisque French bebe doll?

For the record, she was slain by my Coven of mad demon actors and actresses, for, when she surfaced at the Theatre des Vampires with Louis as her mournful, guilt-ridden protector and lover, it became all too clear to too many that she had tried to murder her principal Maker, The Vampire Lestat. It was a crime punishable by death, the murdering of one's creator or the attempt at it, but she herself stood among the condemned the moment she became known to the Paris Coven, for she was a forbidden thing, a child immortal, too small, too fragile for all her charm and cunning to survive on her own. Ah, poor blasphemous and beauteous creature. Her soft monotone voice, issuing from diminutive and ever kissable lips, will haunt me forever.

But I did not bring about her execution. She died more horribly than anyone has ever imagined, and I have not the strength now to tell the tale. Let me say only that before she was shoved out into a brick-lined air well to await the death sentence of the god Phoebus, I tried to grant her fondest wish, that she should have the body of a woman, a fit shape for the tragic dimension of her soul.

Well, in my clumsy alchemy, slicing heads from bodies and stumbling to transplant one to another, I failed. Some night when I am drunk on the blood of many victims, and more accustomed than I am now to confession, I will recount it, my crude and sinister operations, conducted with a sorcerer's willfulness and a boy's blundering, and describe in grim and grotesque detail the writhing jerking catastrophe that rose from beneath my scalpel and my surgical needle and thread.

Let me say here, she was herself again, hideously wounded, a botched reassemblage of the angelic child she'd been before my attempts, when she was locked out in the brutal morning to meet her death with a clear mind. The fire of Heaven destroyed the awful unhealed evidence of my Satanic surgery as it turned her to a monument in ash. No evidence remained of her last hours within the torture chamber of my makeshift laboratory. No one need ever have known what I say now.

For many a year, she haunted me. I could not strike from my mind the faltering image of her girlish head and tumbling curls fixed awkwardly with gross black stitching to the flailing, faltering and falling body of a female vampire whose discarded head I'd thrown into the fire.

Ah, what a grand disaster was that, the child-headed monster woman unable to speak, dancing in a frenetic circle, the blood gurgling from her shuddering mouth, her eyes rolling, arms flapping like the broken bones of invisible wings.

It was a truth I vowed to conceal forever from Louis de Pointe du Lac and all whoever questioned me. Better let them think that I had condemned her without trying to effect her escape, both from the vampires of the theatre and from the wretched dilemma of her small, enticing, flat-chested and silken-skinned angelic form.

She was not fit for deliverance after the failure of my butchery; she was as a prisoner subjected to the cruelty of the rack who can only smile bitterly and dreamily as she is led, torn and miserable, to the final horror of the stake. She was as a hopeless patient, in the reeking antiseptic death cubicle of a modern hospital, freed at last from the hands of youthful and overzealous doctors, to give up the ghost on a white pillow alone.

Enough. I won't relive it.

I will not.

I never loved her. I didn't know how.

I carried out my schemes in chilling detachment and with fiendish pragmatism. Being condemned and therefore being nothing and no one, she was a perfect specimen for my whim. That was the horror of it, the secret horror which eclipsed any faith I might have pleaded later in the high-blown courage of my experiments. And so the secret remained with me, with Armand, who had witnessed centuries of unspeakable and refined cruelties, a story unfit for the tender ears of a desperate Louis, who could never have borne such descriptions of her degradation or suffering, and who did not truly, in his soul, survive her death, cruel as it was.